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Disconnecting 799

Getting connected to the Net, it turns out, is a lot easier than getting disconnected. A couple of months ago, I finally switched to cable from dial-up, but I never got around to disconnecting from Earthlink or from AOL, which I've been on for years, clinging to the hope that with more than 25 million subscribers, something would eventually happen there that would be interesting enough to write about. Last week, looking over my expense invoices, Hemos pointed out that this hadn't happened once in three years. So I cancelled Earthlink and AOL. Or, I tried to. The next two hours drew me into yet another customer-service scandal in the tech business -- getting offline.

At the moment, Earthlink is running scads of TV ads showing the hapless nerd beseiged by guys in business suits who pull the plug on his computer, shower him with junk mail and peper him with tennis balls. At Earthlink, the ad says, they don't tolerate any of those service interruptions or spamming or pop-ups. So I thought it would be easy to cancel its service, which I actually acquired back when my account said Mindspring. But Earthlink's ferocious defense apparently only applies to paying customers, not to departing ones. Most ISPs, unlike more regulated phone companies, don't send monthly bills; they simply bill membership to a credit card. Thus, it's not simple even to find a phone number to call when you want out, and you sure won't find any little cancellation box on the home page.

When I got through at 8:50 a.m., I heard the usual chirpy recorded message urging me onto the site's website, where, the voice assured me, all my questions could be answered. There was, however, no prompt or icon or command on the customer service or tech support page for cancelling membership.

Back to the phones. I got to the menu, which didn't give an option for cancellation, but did give one for sales and service. That had to be the one, right? Wrong. After waiting on hold for 20 minutes, Diane told me there was a special customer service department for cancellations. She switched me to it. Fifteen minutes of bad music. I had that familiar, sinking feeling one gets upon entering the land of customer support, tech style. You can get in anytime, but you can't always get out.

Then a tech support rep came on. Can't imagine why you were switched to this department, he said. But I've been on the phone for half an hour, I said, taking the slightly more pleading voice one uses in the second stage of Phone Menu Hell -- the point before you really lose it, while you still hope some decent soul will ignore company policy and treat you right.

"Tell you what," said Steve the tech, his voice getting a tad chillier. "Why don't I stay on with you while we switch you over?" Great, I said. He vanished and wasn't heard from again. In the world of customer service, lies are the currency, and broken hearts abound.

Twenty-five more minutes, and a customer service rep from the first department popped on. A veteran of too many of these conversations to recount, I asked to speak to a supervisor immediately. One (allegedly) came on. Oh, he said, I was in the wrong department. So I did that thing where you recount your sorry travails in Tech Support Hell while they sometimes pretend to care.

"I've been on the phone for an hour," I said, the fuse having been lit. "It only took me five minutes to sign up. Why not make it possible to cancel electronically?"

Can't do that, he said, for security reasons. We have to verify your identify.

"But you let people sign up online, verifying or not verifying?"

"That's different," he said. It sure is. Cash flows in rather than out. After a few minutes (maybe three) on hold, I was told I needed a special devision of sales that cancelled subscribers. The supervisor switched me over. I expected to end up back in regular customer service, but didn't.

At 10:04 a.m., Cindy came on to ask for my name and PW. I didn't have the latter, as I hadn't used the service for a long time, and the PW had vanished into Password Hell, the bottom of a desk drawer stuffed with the detritus of old accounts, ID codes and issue and support reference numbers from countless tech issues and tech support pleas and brawls.

Cindy said Earthlink had no record of my ever having been a customer -- no name, address or credit card on file. I relayed to Cindy how impressed I was that they hadn't skipped a single month of billing me for the service, even though they didn't seem to know I existed. Yet I did have my credit card bill and assured her I was looking at a monthly charge of $9.95. Eventually it occurred to me that the account might be in my wife's name along with mine. The computer seemed willing to compromise on this point. Cindy said my service would be terminated. Was there anything else she could help me with?

Throughout this ridiculous waste of time, a voice kept popping up saying all calls might be monitored to ensure good service. I hope so. I also hope the people monitoring it have a lot of time and stored memory and a high tolerance for generic pop. I wonder if these people ever think about the irony: they spend all this money claiming to want to make life easier for people, yet they make what should be the simplest things nearly impossible.

The AOL call, initiated at 10:25 a.m. was shorter but weirder. This behemoth spends even more money touting how easy and customer-friendly the service is. That is, after all, the ads say, why they're Number One. But there's no keyword on AOL -- which has a keyword for everything -- for cancelling membership. If you root around in customer support for a while and keep typing in "cancel service" at every prompt -- I'm talking two or three browser moves and about five minutes, just enough to discourage the rushed, confused or distractable -- you eventually reach a page that offers an 888 number for cancellation of membership.

Getting the number of course, doesn't mean getting a human to answer the phone, which required another 20 or more minutes. The world's easiest-to-use and most wholesome online service doesn't fuss much about departing customers, either. At this point, I seriously considered saving the cancellation of AOL for another day. Maybe cancelling two ISPs is just too cumbersome for one workday. But then, there was Hemos and the invoices.

A gruff Brian answered the phone. "Can I help you?" he said, sounding as though his feelings were already hurt and he was spoiling for a fight. I assumed I had to be misreading his tone. I said I wanted to cancel.

"Why?" he asked. "We need to list a reason." Wondering why that was any of his business and eager to finally get off the phone, I mumbled something about having switched to cable. "You can piggyback AOL on cable," Brian interrupted. "That's not really a good reason."

Did I need a really good reason, I wondered? Had I missed something in the fine print when I signed up? What if something personal had happened, like a broken-off love affair? Or maybe I was broke, or been driven mad by pop-up ads and spam?

"Is there any complaint about the service?," he asked abruptly. I hadn't heard this brusque tone from customer service people, usually trained to hold onto a syrupy, we-are-here-to-please-you voice that probably causes them (and you) to later go home and torture their pets.

No, I said, I was happy with the service. I had finally switched to cable and wanted to cancel, that's all. What was the point of dumping on AOL, which I hadn't even been on for months? That would just generate a sugary phone call in a couple of days, pleading for re-consideration.

"You're sending out mixed signals here," Brian insisted, none too warmly. "This isn't really a good reason for cancelling. We can talk about adjusting the pricing, because there are different plans, if that's a problem, and since we can piggyback on cable and you have no complaints, I'm afraid I just don't understand. What am I supposed to write down on the form? You're not making any sense."

Contrary to the atmosphere on Slashdot, I don't particularly enjoy arguing, but Brian flipped my trigger. What would a 70-year-old user say under those circumstances, or a kid, or somebody who didn't speak English very well? Or somebody who just didn't want Brian jeering at him in a voice that vacillated between rude and intimidating?

It was outrageous and I finally lost it. "Look, Brian, I don't have to give you an unmixed signal, a good reason or any reason. I want you to cancel the service right now. Got it?"

"Your service is terminated," he said sharply at 10:50 a.m. AOL hung up on me! Things can't be all that rosy at the world's largest communications company. Brian was feeling -- therefore transmitting -- too much heat. But I was finally disconnected.

The morning did bring sharply into focus that this disconnection business is a horror, along with the way tech businesses often treat their customers, even as they spend fortunes taking out expensive ads claiming otherwise. Nobody should have to spend that much time cancelling two ISP's. It's so discouraging and so unpleasant that hundreds of thousands of people undoubtedly find it easier to pay relatively small monthly fees to avoid it. Which is almost certainly the idea.

So at the least I propose that ISPs be required to send monthly bills, listing numbers to call or websites to visit so that users can cancel on the phone or online. that means, of course, that ISP sites must offer electronic cancellation (if you can get on with a PW and ID, why can't you get off with them?) -- a button to push to cancel membership. It obviously ought to be as easy to cancel as to subscribe. Finally, AOL, of all places, and other sites should not dare be insulting, intimidating or browbeating to customers who want or need to disconnect. (Something Earthlink didn't try, I should point out -- though it took an outrageously long time there and the site didn't make the process simple in any way.)

In a world where it ought to be a universal right to get connected instantly, you ought to be able to get disconnected without calling a lawyer, a hit man or the FTC.

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Comments Filter:
  • What I did/do (Score:5, Informative)

    by litewoheat ( 179018 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:32AM (#3537266)
    Never ever go to the "place" in automated call routing hell for canceling your account. Go to the "place" for past dure bills. I've never had to wait on hold there, and they can cancel your account for you. My business requires that I open and close many ISP accounts and that's always worked.
    • by Stoutlimb ( 143245 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:50AM (#3537428)
      "My business requires that I open and close many ISP accounts and that's always worked."

      And how many sent e-mails per day to verified addresses do you guarantee? ;-)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:51AM (#3537444)
      My business requires that I open and close many ISP accounts and that's always worked.


    • My business requires that I open and close many ISP accounts...

      Spamford? Is that YOU???

      :) Sorry, had to be said.

    • by Sun Tzu ( 41522 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @12:11PM (#3537636) Homepage Journal
      I even beat that for ease-of-cancellation. Earthlink took it upon themselves to cancel my account and delete my data out of their database. They then spend the next two weeks re-entering my data and the other 6000(?) users who they had inadvertantly cancelled.

      But even as efficient as that cancellation was, it was still unpleasant. ;)
  • by jd142 ( 129673 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:36AM (#3537285) Homepage
    You know, the first thing I would do after this is call my credit card company and tell them that you've canceled these accounts and that there should be 1 final payment to them and no more after that.

    You complained about having them on auto-bill, but that actually makes it easier to protect yourself.
    • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:59AM (#3537514) Homepage
      Agreed. I have TWICE encountered similar problems in the past with ISP's. In my case, the problems were with billing continuing after I had told them to cancel the service. Each time, contacting the credit card company got the issue resolved quickly and almost painlessly.

      Once you contact the credit card company and tell them the charge is unauthorized, the monkey is on the VENDOR's back.
    • After they had lost several emails, I decided to cancel Verio. After reading the fine print about having to cancel in writing, I sent them a cancellation letter. They still charged my card for another two months. When I called they said they never received the letter. So I sent another letter and CC'ed my credit card company. This time it worked. They tried to bill me for one more month, but gave up after a while.
  • it was simple for me: my earthlink email was being used for quite a few mailing lists, friends, etc. so I decided that although I didnt want to pay for ELN dialup and pop3/smtp costs, wanted to keep my email address. So they simply setup forwarding to me new free address, and charged by i think $5 for 6 months, more than enough time to wean myself off of the ELN account. So my ELN email address will expire next month, and I will have just about everything that I care about pointing to my email. Almost no fuss nor muss.
  • by arson1 ( 527855 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:38AM (#3537306) Homepage
    That explains a lot....
  • Sometimes it's easier to just refuse the charge on your Credit Card.
  • this is the reason (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doubtless ( 267357 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:38AM (#3537312) Homepage
    I never use any auto-monthly pay option for any services, be it electric bill, ISP bill, cable bill, phone bill, etc.

    It might be convinient, but I rather write the check every month than to deal with these kind of BS that might follow.
  • Need to get out the homemade millenium Falcon [], fly over there, and have the wookie talk to them.

    I mean, what does it take to get the attention of some folks?

  • How to Cancel (Score:5, Informative)

    by Joe Jordan ( 453607 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:40AM (#3537330) Journal
    For those of you that want to attempt to cancel your AOL account like Jon Katz, the number is listed on this page. []

    Interestingly, Earthlink also has the phone numbers to cancel just about any popular Internet service (except for themselves of course) here [].
    • by hij ( 552932 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:46AM (#3537395) Homepage
      This is good info, but just don't forget to be prepared...

      Brian interrupted. "That's not really a good reason."

      Customer: "Look, I just think that we should be able to see other people."

      Brian: "See other people? What's wrong with me?"

      Customer: "Look, things aren't working out. It's not a problem with you. It's me."

      Brian: "Don't give me that. There's somebody else isn't there?"

      Customer: "Look I don't want to make a scene. It's just that I found another ISP."

      Brian: "Oh God. I knew it, you loose..."

      And then things get ugly.

    • Here, let me help (Score:3, Informative)

      by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 )
      If you wish to cancel your account, you may do so by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested addressed to

      EarthLink Inc.
      1375 Peachtree St. Level A
      Atlanta, GA 30309

      Or call the customer service department at 1.800.719.4660 option 2.

      To terminate a web hosting account, call 1.888.932.1997 option 3.

      To terminate a DSL account, call 1.888.847.4708 option 1.

      The menu systems are still fucked up. You won't hear an option "to cancel your account, press X". I simply chose the option for new sales on their customer service number, and they could do it. I also advise you to have a trouble ticket number(s) ready if you cancel due to service problems, and any other confirmation numbers from past dealings with them. Paper trails seem to scare them. And call very early to avoid the hold time.
  • Interesting... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PepsiProgrammer ( 545828 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:41AM (#3537333)
    A few months ago when my mom switched from netzero (she was paying fot the 'platinum' service) to a real ISP, we found out that you can do anything your account you want to from the netzero website, except canceling your account, so she called, and was forced to answer some survey questions before they would cancel her account. Nowhere near as bad as this though.
  • by crumbz ( 41803 ) <<remove_spam>jus ... o spam>> on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:42AM (#3537339) Homepage
    The quality of tech customer service has been steadily declining over the past five-six years. For certain sectors, ISPs and telcos, the quality is simply atrocious. There are multiple reasons at work here:

    1) New technologies (i.e. DSL for the RBOCs, cable internet for CATV carriers) have hastily cobbled together support structures that do a poor job of responding to customer needs. Education of the support techs seems to be as poor as education of the customers, leaving a huge gap in the working knowledge required to troubleshoot and rectify problems.

    2) Corporate cost cutting. When Ameritech outsourced their IP support to Convergys (a spin-off of CBIS) a couple of years ago, the marked rise in on-hold times along with the decline in quality of the staff (working knowledge of telephony infrastructure) caused our corporation to switch to another IP provide.

    3) Scripting. Support staff railroad you into a narrow set of options and if your particular problem doesn't fit into the right slot, you are relegated to a black hole of call-backs by higher level of support that adds days if not weeks to the resolution of your problem.

    These issues have gotten so bad in the past couple of years that it is amazing that we have high-speed IP access at the consumer level at all in the U.S.
  • That usually will get you booted off a service pretty quick. Spam the postmaster, abuse, support, sales and other addresses that are found on the top level pages of those providers. They should boot you off, and you won't have to worry about going on the phone.

    Or, you could just call your credit card company and say you will refuse to pay any future bills from those companies.

    • This might work for ELNK and AOL, but a rising number of ISPs are inserting "clean-up fees" for customers who violate their Acceptable Use Policies.

      They *might* turn around and bill you a few bucks per spam (which could add up rather quickly) and STILL not "cancel" your account, but simply suspend your ability to log in during their "investigation."
  • ... from the credit card companies. Ever tried cancelling a credit card? It absolutely blows my mind how close customer reps will come to calling you flat out stupid for wanting to go with a card.

    They made me feel like I'd be deported to some backwaters of Zaire if I even dared to survive in the concrete jungle with only one credit card. Fucking jerks, I shouldn't have to work my ass off and argue my ass off to manage my business relationships.
    • I'v ehad little trouble closing credit card accounts in most cases. I started a collection during college, then decided a few years later it was too complicated managing all the accounts. (Mind you, I didn't get into any debt trouble, though! I pay my cards off every month.)

      Usually I just tell them I'm reducing my credit exposure, and belive it or not, most CSR's fully understand, since they know most credit card companies give you more credit than you can afford.

      I've cut my load down to five cards, and I'm looking to cut further.
  • I see this as simple. If you can't get them to cancel your service easily, why bother asking them to? Just call up your credit card compay and put a charge-back on bill. Then when AOL/Earthlink/Other ISP calls you to find out why you did that, tell them simply:

    "I want to cancel my service. You made it hell for me to try to cancel, so I'm making it hell for you to try to get your money. Don't bill me again.

    Wait, could you hold for just a sec?."

    At this point either put your phone on hold and leave it like that for a few hours, or set it next to the radio, tuned to your local obnoxious contry station. Or just hang up without telling them. I should note that I haven't tried this, but I'd love a chance ;).

  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:43AM (#3537364)
    Managed to cancel AOL ok, but she did let them talk her into a couple of months of free service, to see if maybe she wanted to keep it around. That's not such a bad thing though. She isn't real worried about them continuing to charge her credit card either, as they have a card that is going to expire...

    Maybe it was tough to find something 'important' to talk about this week. Should anybody really be surprised that a company that is in the business of making money isn't nice to people that no longer wants to give them money? Hell, why not give an american a chance at apathy, they'll probably take it!
    • Should anybody really be surprised that a company that is in the business of making money isn't nice to people that no longer wants to give them money?

      Yes, because presumably these companies understand that negative customer service experiences are recounted countless numbers of times, with the net result being their reputation taking a hit. If, however, they made the process easy for customers, maybe they wouldn't be on the front page of /. in a negative context.

      Granted, a lot of ISPs don't seem to grasp this concept, but there are other companies out there that do. (Nordstrom's no-hassle return policy comes to mind)

      So, yes, we should be surprised -- shocked, even, that Fortune 500 companies could be so short-sighted and stupid when it comes to customer relations.

  • by Restil ( 31903 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:43AM (#3537365) Homepage
    They disconnect me practically every month, until I go pay the bill. It occurs to me, that if I simply stopped paying the bills, they would gradually get the hint I was gone.

    Of course, you gave them your credit card number, which makes billing easy for you (and for them) but that puts all the effort on you to get it disconnected. If you pay cash or check, and you simply stop making payments, you'll be disconnected faster with no intervention on your part at all.

  • by Icepick_ ( 25751 ) <icepick&netfamine,,com> on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:44AM (#3537373) Homepage
    "John Katz? THE John Katz? Sure I can cancel your service, please hold for one minute"


  • Free AOL (Score:4, Funny)

    by BagOBones ( 574735 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:45AM (#3537379)
    A friend of mine got AOL FREE for over 3 months, she started with the one month starter CD then every month she phoned to terminate the account.. Every time they would offer her another month free to try it.. This went on for many months, not costing her a dime except time to make the calles.. She finnaly went to a real ISP..
  • by CrazyBrett ( 233858 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:46AM (#3537397)
    Actually cancelling various services may be hard, but never underestimate the power of threatening to cancel the service in order to get what you want.

    I use AT&T for my cable and internet service. I stopped watching TV as much recently, so I wanted to downgrade my cable service from Extended Basic to Standard Basic. I called the ever helpful (sarcasm) tech support, and the woman told me that they would have to charge a $15 "service fee" to downgrade the service as I requested. She explained that they had to send a technician out to turn off part of my service, and that I had to pay for that. Obviously, this sounded ridiculous, so I asked "If I just cancelled the service entirely, would there still be a fee?"

    The next words out of her mouth were "Let me just waive that service fee for you..."

  • by phil reed ( 626 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:46AM (#3537398) Homepage
    It's actually pretty easy to get AOL to cancel your account. All you have to do is to go into one of their chat rooms and start typing profanity. Works even better if it's a kid's room and you start propositioning them. Your account will last about 5 minutes.
    • Heh, that's exactly how I got rid of my AOL account back in 1993, although it wasn't intentional. I was in some chat room (yeah, I was about 15) and used a couple of swear words. I found myself disconnected, logged back in, went to the same room, and started ranting that I'd been disconnected unfairly, what a bunch of crap! At that point, I found myself disconnected again, and couldn't log in. I was pissed off, and even sent a fax telling them that this was bogus, etc. etc. No response.

      A week or so later, I discovered PrimeNet (the ISP, not the distributed computing project), and was introduced to the REAL internet. Lucky me, PrimeNet billed me for one month of service, then promptly forgot I existed, so I had a free year of Internet. Woo!
  • Huh ? (Score:4, Informative)

    by AftanGustur ( 7715 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:47AM (#3537406) Homepage

    The easiest thing in the world is just to send them your cancellation in registered mail so you can prove that they received it.

    Then contact your bank to stop payments to whatever entity is siphoning from your account.

    End of problem, if they don't comply they are on the wrong end of the criminal law.

  • AOL cancel operators (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tiltowait ( 306189 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:47AM (#3537409) Homepage Journal
    AOL removed online cancelation because it was, well, easy. This was brought up during the lawsuits aginst them over the busy signals a few years ago. Currently you have to call to cancel, and the person you'll speak to receives a paid bonus if they convince you not to cancel. They usually offer another free month or point out that you could just call back on the exact day your bill cycles. That's why Katz got hung up on, the person was upset at loosing pay.
    • "They usually offer another free month"

      This is actually quite useful. I've had free AOL for the last two years or so. Each time I call to cancel, they give me another free month or two.

      "Would you stay with AOL if we gave you a month free?"

      "Well .. I forgot to pay last month .. could you cancel that charge and give me another two months free?"

      "No problem."

      Believe it or not, that actually happened :).
  • Perfect (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rhadamanthus ( 200665 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:48AM (#3537410)
    "In the world of customer service, lies are the currency, and broken hearts abound."

    That is an analogy for the ages. I dread any and all calls to ANY customer "service" department. I would guess the machine-systems in place save the businesses money, but good grief they suck. The first thing I ever do on a "service" call is to press any button to talk to a person. Even if my intent is entirely the opposite of what the machine says the person is there for.

  • by Ashurbanipal ( 578639 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:49AM (#3537420)
    I spent a few minutes on the phone, but it was obvious they weren't going to let me terminate service without hours of pain, so I hung up.

    Then I sent a notarized and dated letter to each, telling them I had no further need of their services and that I would tender no further payment after the current month. I enclosed a check for the current month's service.

    Then I called my bank and told them to refuse all requests for payment from both services.

    Unsuprisingly, *both* services tried to bill me again (Compuserve several times). But, since they'd both cashed my checks, they couldn't say they hadn't received my letters.

    Worked like a charm, and all told I spent less than two hours on the deal. Of course, both services let me sign up in less than ten minutes, but that's the reality of Corporate Amerika these days.

    My friend Red says the secret to happiness is lowered expectations. In this case he's probably right. At least it doesn't matter if I'm "white" or not, they screw everybody equally!
    • When I disconnected from Compuserve (in the UK) back in 1997 when we changed to a real ISP, it was simply a matter of typing in the right keyword, entering why you were cancelling (as if anyone reads it), and hitting the cancel button.

      Still, it shows standards have gone downhill since AOL bought them....
  • A word of warning (Score:2, Informative)

    by StupidKatz ( 467476 )
    I've heard similar stories to this one, where it takes an obscene amount of time to get a human to say "okay, we'll terminate your service", but the bills (or charges, in most cases) keep coming! In perhaps one or two cases, these being rather rare, the persons eventually had their banks change their credit card numbers to rid themselves of the monthly charge.

    Keep a close eye on your next two bank statements. Make sure they actually stopped taking money beofre you believe youeself safe.
  • I had to call Earthlink no less than 7 times to cancel DSL service for an apartment I was moving out of. The first 5 times I called their systems were down and they couldn't cancel my account.

    After finally getting my account cancelled, my debit card was mysteriously charged ~$150. Their explanation was that it was an early cancelation penalty due to my one year contract. I asked how long ago I signed-up and they replied 20 months! It took another 3 weeks to get my money refunded.

    My advice is to escalate the call immediately at the first sign of any resistance, and to record the dates, times, and names from every conversation you have.

    This is truly the worst customer service experience I have ever had.
  • One more thing - ring up the CC people get them to refuse any further charge - just in case!
  • You should check your credit card bill in a month to see if they actually stopped charging you. I had a similar experience with Compuserve and when it was all said and done they continued to bill me for two months.

    The thing about these services is that they piss off one person at a time. It's like committing suicide slowly. I know of at least three different people who will never use these services because they were screwed over by them. Those three tell a couple of hundred each, and those couple of hundred also tell a bunch of people.

    At first this kind of publicity doesn't hurt you but as the number of pissed off ex-customers grow it can have a real affect on the bottom line. Hence AOL probably doesn't get a lot of repeat customers.
      • At first this kind of publicity doesn't hurt you but as the number of pissed off ex-customers grow it can have a real affect on the bottom line. Hence AOL probably doesn't get a lot of repeat customers.
      I don't know about that. Everytime I move, I sign up for a free month of AOL while I wait for the DSL to be installed. Once it's in, I call AOL and cancel. So, I'm a repeat customer. :-)

      And for those interested, my "excuse" for cancelling the service is that there's nothing on AOL that I use, so why pay for it.

  • HAHAHA (Score:3, Funny)

    by aengblom ( 123492 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:57AM (#3537489) Homepage
    HaHaha! The Onion needs to hire this guy and put his article up immediately.

    Headline suggestion: Horrible Customer Service Call Centers Complete World Takeover and Finally Invade Computer Industry


    How is this different from any other large bureaucratic corporation's customer service and why do we care about this personalized story that only has to do with Katz? (This is only relevant to ME if a large percentage of people have that problem and Katz... you didn't provide proof of that.)

    That said, my story beats his anyway!

    **So begins the real reason for this post. To bitch about my own experiences!**

    My favorite is when Verizon Avenue (a wholly owned subsidiary of Verizon that does DSL for Apt. buildings) broke my phone line.
    Ver Ave: "We don't fix phone line. Call Verizon"
    Me: But you BROKE IT and you ARE Verizon. You call.
    VA: Call Verizon
    Verizon: "We fix phones, but if we didn't break it, you pay."
    Me: "Sounds fine, since you broke it"
    Verizon: "Oh no, we weren't there we couldn't break it"
    Me: "Well I'm not paying.
    Verizon: Well, call your DSL service. Make them fix it or pay
    Me: (calls john katz. please bitch about ISP customer service on slashdot so i can bitch and be on topic
    Katz: No Prob!

  • by Ratbert42 ( 452340 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:57AM (#3537491)
    Is is just me, or is this the best Jon Katz story ever? I know that's not saying much, but this is the first one in 6 months that I have actually read beyond the preview text.
    • It is...

      But after I was done, it seemed to have the tone of the 'frustrated guy trying to deal with these tech types' that would have been better received by Arizona Highways or the AARP newsletter.

      But at least it made sense.
  • ... Making sure that the billing actually stops. Keep checking your credit card bills. And if (when) they DO charge you again, going through your credit card company is a painful, but effective, way of fixing the problem.
  • by Glorat ( 414139 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @11:57AM (#3537495)
    I had to disconnect our family dialup in the UK several years ago (from Compuserver I think). The ISP's lines were quite painless for the most part but the ultimate result was that we had to mail/fax a written letter to them explaining we wanted to cancel. The upshot of this is that one could copy the same letter to our bank thus terminating the payments they would be getting, in the event that cancellation wasn't working on Compuserve's side
  • What did you expect Katz, in this post-Columbine, post-9/11 world?
  • Asking Google: "cancel AOL" I got AOL's phone numbers which gave me "1-888-265-8008 Cancellation"

    Asking Google: how do I cancel my Earthlink account" gives me this page with specific instructions: []

    Lay off the weed, ok? Makes thinking clearer.

  • by marhar ( 66825 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @12:01PM (#3537539) Homepage
    Here's what to do:
    1. Call the customer service, spend a "reasonable" amount of time on the phone.
    2. If you haven't been unsubscribed in a reasonable amount of time, hang up. The definition of "reasonable" varies according to each person. I'm willing to put up with 5-10 minutes.
    3. Call your credit card company. Tell them, "I would like to dispute this bill. I have tried to unsubscribe from the service and have not been successful."
    4. You will be sent a bit of paperwork to fill out. Write "I have tried to unsubscribe to the service but have not been successful in doing so."
    5. The billing dispute will churn through the system for some amount of time. Sometimes the service company will just cancel your subscription and reverse the charge. If not, you will eventually be contacted by somebody, either on the phone or in writing.
    6. When asked why you want to cancel the service, reply, "I no longer use it." If pressed for reasons ("was it the price? were you dissatisfied?"), respond, "I dunno, I just no longer use it."

    Credit card companies are used to dealing with business who make it hard to cancel recurring charges. They know what to do, and in this case they are your allies. Good Luck!

    • When asked why you want to cancel the service...

      On good answer is "broken record."
      No matter what they say to distract you, say
      "I want to disconnect my service."

      Them: "Is there a problem?"
      You: "I want to disconnect my service."
      Them: "Why do you want to cancel the service?"
      You: "I want to disconnect my service."
      Them: "Would a free month change your mind?"
      You: "I want to disconnect my service."
      Them: "I need to put down a reason."
      You: "I want to disconnect my service."
      Them: "Why not wait till the end of the month?"
      You: "I want to disconnect my service."
      Them: "But why?"
      You: "I want to disconnect my service."

      Most people give up after the third repeat.

      -- this is not a .sig
  • 1. How do the attitudes of the people AOL and Earthlink employees reflect the insecurities of the general populace caused by a post 9-11 world?

    2. Is the use of internet services for ISPs a symptom of globalization and furthurmore the lack of internet cancellations an attempt to make it even more difficult for people temporarily outside of the country to cancel their accounts?

    3. Is this a symptom of the disorganization and uncertainty caused by the economic instabillity of AOL/TW and Earthlink fighting to survive in an economy in the midst of a recession?

    Either way this is definatly one of the best JonKatz articles I've seen. When he sticks to the topic at hand and doesn't try to blow it out of proportion or make any stunning (and often incorrect) revelations he can be a decent writer.
  • This article didn't have any sort of hyperbolic buzzword-dropping extrapolation!

    I have to say that by sticking to the primary source account and resisting the urge to excessively editorialize, you made something I found worthwhile to read.

    Thank you, and I agree that this aspect of tech support should be put under the spotlight. Telecom companies are the very worst abusers in my opinion. Not only do they make it difficult to disconnect, but then they try to ruin all of your future dinner hours trying to "get you back".
  • With a fist full of T1s at work the thought of dial up a home had lost it's attraction, but my girl friend needed dial-up for work so she signed us up for Qwest. It was only $13 so no big deal. Their tech support turned out to be good and fast for Win platforms. Well, MSN made them a deal they couldn't refuse. QWest said move to MSN or go dark. In a moment of weekness I hit the button to transfer to MSN. After a month of tech support hell and their unwillingness to support win95/Netscape I pulled the plug. Because they were billing my phone account it took 3 weeks of daily phone calls and a director level person at QWest to terminate my account. I did learn one very usefull technique to use on stonewalling service reps: guilt. Just ask them, "how does working for a company that behaves this way make you feel?" The other is to keep them on hold. When they ask for information tell them you're looking for it and then pop back to the phone every 5 minutes and sweetly say, "I'm still looking." One day I kept MSN on the phone for over an hour that way. I finally found [] They are cheep and support linux, but their pop provides seem to go out of business every other month. So their dial up numbers keep changing.
  • The customer service rep you might be speaking with could be in India [] (Third Story). As Americans shun low wages for public assistance, American Businesses have been outsourcing their customer service operations to India where people speak English fairly well and they study American pop-culture so they can be like Joey, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and Monica.

    The best part of this for Business is that they get happy, clueless employees that don't mind sub-US minimum wage and can handle extremely rude, self-righteous (and more than likely correct) American callers with a smile on their faces. So next time you want to curse out a company via their customer service learn some nasty words in Hindi to get your point across. Maybe the Indian programmer that took away my last job a few years ago could help us out with a few creative Hindi dirty words.

  • by Omega ( 1602 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @12:05PM (#3537577) Homepage
    As someone who used to work tech support for an ISP, I can tell you that there's 2 simple things you can do to stop the billing.
    1. Notify them in writing. If you write (a letter, not an e-mail) to the billing address and say you want to cancel the service, then they (and you) have written, legal proof of your request to cancel. So you have the law on your side when it comes to step #2.
    2. Call your credit card company. Tell them that you have written the company asking to stop billing you, and instruct your bank to block any future charges from them.
    I'm not claiming that this is the easiest thing to do or that it makes for good customer service on the part of ISPs. Many ISPs won't make you jump through these hoops (as a tech with my former employer, we could all cancel accounts, all we had to do was click "Cancel" -- and we didn't ask for a reason). But there is no way they can refute your intent to cancel if you've requested it in writing.
  • Spam a million accounts from your AOL/xenulink account. Problem solved!

  • Try this trick :) (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fnagaton ( 580019 )
    I've found that pretending you don't have a touch tone phone and holding to "speak to a customer service advisor" is the fastest way of getting through to a human being. It also works with utilities companies. :)
  • "you sure won't find any little cancellation box on the home page."

    "I heard the usual chirpy recorded message urging me onto the site's website, where, the voice assured me, all my questions could be answered."

    Go to [] Log in. Without even scrolling down, look on the left side of your screen, under "Customer Service," right next to the bit that tells you their call center wait times (which you obviously didn't check before calling). What do you see?

    The fourth hyperlink down:
    How to cancel your Earthlink account. []

    And, yes, their on-line chat tech support works, and the wait time on that is a heck of a lot shorter than their call-in lines.
  • "For quality assurance purposes"

    I really would love to be able to download an .mp3 of the conversations you had with these guys.
  • Many have said he should have just told his credit card company to cancel, but no one has pointed out that he still must do that.

    In other words, Earthlink and AOL both claimed his service was cancelled -- but will they keep billing his credit card anyway? Of course! That's part of the whole cancellation hell; even when you think you've won, the battle has only just begun.

  • I, and my family, have been through a few cancelations with ISPs of late, with varying sucess.

    My uncle got his new computer, and dropped in the "Free AOL Trial" CD. As per usual, it wanted a credit card number before you could use your "free" trial. So, he entered the details of his card that was going to run out soonest, which happened to be in just over a months time. 3 weeks later, he'd decided AOL wasn't for him, and picked a new ISP. After 5 minutes trying to cancel and deciding it was too hard, he did nothing. AOL customer support then spent the next month trying to coerce his new credit card number out of him. Eventually, 2 weeks after the card had expired, they took his hints that he wanted to cancel, and terminated the account

    I subscribed to the BT Anytime service over the summer, so I could use the net as much as I do at college without running up huge bills. After checking the minimum sign-up time and cancelation methods well, I signed up with my credit card. Come the end of the summer, I phoned up to cancel. With a copy of the contract in front of me, I asked if they could cancel the account, or if I should send them a letter, and copy it to my credit card company and ask that no more billing went through. Took 3 minutes to cancel the account :)

    My dad changed from one local ISP to another to get ADSL. Apart for getting stung a bit for transfering his domain to the new ISP, it was very pleasant

  • after not being Allowed be earthlink to cancel my account I simply called my credcard company and spoke with a very nice chick named Diana. after speaking with her and explaining the trouble I asked her to list earthlink as a "disputed change" until they stopped billing me. she said no problem and after seven months of billing and being bounced by my CC they called ME. they asked why I hadn't paid my bill ect.. I told them I tried to cancel my account but was not allowed to, "Fuck you and your dialup service" (my EXACT words) all I got was was a subdued voice saying oky our sevice is terminated. Then they had the nerve to tell me that I owed them $100 for past fees! I laughed and told them that they would never get the cash fromme and that if they tried to put it on my credit report i would disput it every week until they tookit off. (remember if you disput a credit report item THEY must prove that it is valid,costing them a little bir of money every time).

    So fuck erathlink I hope they rot in the darkest tech-hell

  • My understanding is that canceling your account with an ISP doesn't make money leave their organization. It just means that your money stops going in.
  • AOL "Stop-safe" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mixbsd ( 574131 )
    From friends who used to work for AOL (all is forgiven!) I know that there's a department called "Stop-safe". These people have the target of stopping 50% of callers from cancelling their subscription. Quite a thankless task, I'm sure.
  • by streetlawyer ( 169828 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @12:14PM (#3537672) Homepage
    Things can't be all that rosy at the world's largest communications company

    Things can't be so good at Slashdot if they're having to nickel-and-dime over $9.95 of expenses!

  • While he acts the part of a normal user who forgets everything including password or that his wife etc might be the card holder, does seem to be somewhat naive. Since he knows that they don't want him to opt out and will make it difficult, why doesn't he prepare for this? Have all the information neccesary and ask immediately to get through to the accounting department. Better yet, why doesn't he just send a registered snail mail asking to be removed from the service? That way, after that date he can legally block all payments to them.
  • Cancelling Earthlink (Score:5, Informative)

    by BacOs ( 33082 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @12:19PM (#3537714) Homepage
    From the Earthlink TOS: []


    You may terminate your account at any time and for any reason by providing notice of intent to terminate to EarthLink by:

    • registered or certified mail, return receipt requested addressed to EarthLink Inc., 1375 Peachtree St. Level A, Atlanta, GA 30309; or
    • telephone calls directed to Accounts-Customer Service at (800) 719-4660, option #2.
    Email termination of your basic Internet access account will not be accepted. To terminate DSL service, you must call (888) 829-8466. To terminate Web Hosting and/or Business Services, you must call (800) 237-0148. Your termination will only be complete upon your receipt of a cancellation confirmation number from EarthLink. Charges to your account will stop accruing the day EarthLink provides you with a cancellation confirmation number. Based on your billing cycle, charges accrued prior to your termination may apply after you receive a cancellation confirmation. Email cancellation requests will not be accepted. If your account included space on EarthLink's servers, anything stored on this space will be deleted upon termination.

    Without prior notice, EarthLink may terminate this Agreement, your password, your account, or your use of the Services, for any reason, including, without limitation, if EarthLink, in its sole discretion, believes you have violated this Agreement, our Acceptable Use Policy, or any of the applicable user policies, or if you fail to pay any charges when due. EarthLink may provide termination notice to you by: email addressed to your email account or by US Mail or courier service to the address you provided for the Services. All notices to you shall be deemed effective on the first (1st) calendar day following the date of electronic mailing or on the fourth (4th) calendar day following the date of first-class mailing or deposit with a commercial courier service.

    Sections 3, 4, 6, and 11 of this Agreement shall survive termination of this Agreement.

    • by austus ( 199520 )
      And so it is said, and let it be so. I hate corporations that think they can write law into their account agreements and software license agreements. How the fuck can something in an agreement survive after the agreement is terminated? That's a logical impossibility. What it means to me is that there's no way to terminate the agreement completely. That's a dangerous precedent. I can see it now:

      Section 3
      You agree to remove any software that requires a Linux based operating system from all computers in your household. MS retains the right to perform on-site audits without any notice whatsoever.

      Section 4
      In accepting this agreement, you agree that your soul, if it does exist, belongs to Bill Gates.

      Section 5
      Without prior notice MS may terminate this agreement. You may terminate this agreement as well with written notice notarized, signed in blood, and hand delivered to customer service in Virginia.

      Sections 3 and 4 of this Agreement shall survive termination of this Agreement.
  • Just before the AT&T/@Home fiasco where service was lost by a large number of people, I called my cablemodem company and asked them if there would be any disruption of service. I was told there would be absolutely no problems. A few hours later we lost service for the entire weekend. That's the worse possible time for my wife as she was an editor for an online magazine and the deadline is late Sunday. Because they had flat out lied to me I decided to switch to DSL.

    My attempt to cancel with AT&T resulted in me being placed in the on-hold hell they are so famous for. Rather than spend an hour on hold, I hung up and wrote a formal letter canceling my service and told them to contact me to make arrangements for the return of the cablemodem. We kept receiving a bill, and I kept writing "service canceled on {date}" on the bill and attaching a copy of the letter. Eventually, they called me because of an overdue bill. When I said I had cancelled in writing they said you can't do it that way and I had to pay. I said, yes I can cancel in writing and that I would not pay. She tried to insist otherwise, but I stood firm. I got the info to return the cablemodem and haven't been bothered since (other than the occassional junk mail advertising their cablemodem service "now available" in my area).
  • A: None of your business. I'm not doing your marketing research for you; commission a study if you want that.

    Q: What am I supposed to write down on the form?

    A: Anything you want. I'm not receiving the form. My next call will be to my credit card company to tell them not to authorize auto-billing from you anymore. At that point, I won't care what's on the form.

  • Sounds like the experience I had cancelling by Rogers cable service. For about 8 months I had both cable (Rogers) and DSL (Bell), so I could compare the two. DSL won on reliability, so I had to cancel Rogers. Fortunately, I found a number to call for cancellations.

    Now Rogers had *never* answered their phone for me in less than 30 minutes, and this time was no different. What made it excrutiatingly awful was that the on-hold music was some old-time country and western yodelling music (I kid you not).

    When a human finally picked up the other end, the first question he asked was why I wanted to cancel my service. Did I give him an earful!

    After that he went on auto-pilot. Confirming my name, address, account number, etc. He was so much on auto-pilot, that he ended the phone call with

    "Thank you for choosing Rogers!"

    I laughed and hung up.

  • I dropped AOL service a long time ago (when 28.2Kb modems were state of the art) and had no trouble at all. I did get a slew of letters from Steve Case wondering why I'd cancelled the service but no surly Customer Service person berating my reason for leaving. :-)

    Someone should be explaining to Brian what the job market is like nowadays. Might just clear up that attitude problem he's got.

  • My roommate signed up for AOL for one day because his usual ISP was down and the man needs his online poker.

    He knew they were going to ask him why he was leaving and spent his 30 minutes of hold time thinking of a good response. His conversation went something like this:

    AOL guy: Why are you cancelling your AOL service?
    Roommate: Did you see the movie Memento?
    AOL: Yes
    R: I have that same memory problem and I woke up this morning with a note pinned to my shirt that said "Cancel AOL".
    AOL: Were you having any problems with your service?
    R: I really can't remember. But I should probably do what the note says.
    AOL: OK. Your account has been canceled.

    You don't owe them any explanation. You're a customer and you don't want to pay them anymore.
    That should be enough.

  • by west ( 39918 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @12:40PM (#3537881)
    When my wife tried to cancel her cell phone (she had gone to another service), there line of excuses went:

    "We can't"
    "We can, but it your contract must run the rest of the year"
    "Maybe there was no contract, but there's a $50 service charge"
    "Maybe there is no service charge, but you'll have to clear it with the Loyalty department"

    At this point my wife is mentions how the Loyalty department has tones of "1984". The service representative says he never saw the movie. *sigh*.

    The Loyalty department:

    "How about another month's contract just in case you really do need it"
    "How about a month's free service" (!)
    "How about three months' free service" (!!!)
    "Why do you want to cancel?"
    "Can you give a better reason?" (!)

    Finally, they refused to cancel the service for three months. They'd just stop billing us and if we didn't use the service, it would expire...

    Now after all that (which makes for great anecdotes at parties, even if it took a while), they did actually keep their word and we saw no more bills.
  • by Bobartig ( 61456 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @01:23PM (#3538199) Homepage
    It took me about 5 calls and 3 days to cancel my earthlink acct. Personally, I find it amusing that their "tech" support was 24 hours a day, but their "customer" service was only like 9-5. Further, I found it interesting that two of the tech support people I spoke to couldn't give me the customer support ppl's number. I, too, had to call the general CS number, and be forwarded to their cancellation dept, which apparently had no public number (from what their CSR's would have you believe). I also found it infinitely frustrating that the only people that can cancel your account are the least accessible. I tried emailing all their depts, the online chat thing (which did NOT work for me), and finally, calling every number I could get my hands on.

    I don't remember getting any bull about trying to keep me as a customer, but then again, when I'm talking on the phone, I'm like one step removed from pathological liar ("Um, I'm going to Africa for 6 months. . . I'm getting an OC3 installed in my apartment building. . . due to the nature of my employment, I cannot divulge personal information over insecure lines. )

    Now that my new apt has a T1 line, I actually *enjoy* telling broadband telemarketer's the truth.

    CSR: You do understand that Verison DSL can give you speeds up to 50 times as fast as dial up access, along with great reliability and consolidated billing with your local phone access.
    Me: I've got a T1 line in my apt.
    CSR: Well, in many areas, DSL service is faster than a Cable modem.
    Me: No, I've got a T1. You know how you guys are an ISP, and you provide internet access to other people via your larger network backbone.
    CSR: Er, yes...
    Me: Well, that's what I've got. I could be you guys and offer customers broadband access from me. You could NEVER offer me access as fast as what I've currently got. *evil cackle*
    CSR: Ok, thanks for your time *sniff*

    Even if you don't have a T1, even if your still on dialup. I suggest ppl take this route w/ telemarketers. It'll give you an amazing evil/warm fuzzy all over. ;)
  • by aries78 ( 84364 ) <ariesgeek@aries g e e k . com> on Friday May 17, 2002 @01:25PM (#3538221) Homepage
    When I lived in Arizona, I had a friend who worked for AOL. According to the TOS, if you cuss out a support rep 3 times, you're in violation of the TOS and will be terminated. Apparently the way some people cancel is by sending three e-mails to tech support, all full of profanities.

    I tried it, and sure enough, it works. Just don't expect to be able to use the same credit card to sign up for AOL again... But then again, why would you want to? :)
  • by GungaDan ( 195739 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @01:31PM (#3538293) Homepage
    This thread has caused a fatal error in module Katzbash. Unexpected non-drivel encountered.

  • by Luminous ( 192747 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @02:02PM (#3538570) Journal
    When asked why you are cancelling, don't tell them the truth, lie.

    AOL REP: And why do you want to cancel your account?

    ME: I've converted my religion and am no longer allowed to use computers.

    AOL REP: That doesn't sound legitimate.

    ME: Are you questioning my faith, because if you are, that would be discrimination. My church has lawyers to deal with this kind of thing.
  • by slashdoter ( 151641 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @03:27PM (#3539249) Homepage
    " A veteran of too many of these conversations to recount, I asked to speak to a supervisor immediately."

    As someone in tech support I can say that you lost the guy at that point, from this point on he did not want to help you. NEVER ask for a supervisor unless you have no other option. Plus the "supervisor" you talked to was just the guy in the next cube over.

  • by inkill ( 580076 ) on Friday May 17, 2002 @03:48PM (#3539430)
    My name is Edward and I work for earthlink customer service, I won't try and defend earthlink as for the transfering around to different departments (although if you can provide me with the names of the reps you spoke with I will be more then willing to 'look into this for you') but, as with any phone tree for ISP's, there are usually only 3 options to select.

    1)Technical Support (handles technical issues *obviously*)
    2) Customer Service (handles billing and account maintenance - cancelling would be account maintenance)
    3) Sales (obviously handles the setup of new accounts)

    Each of our 3 divisions has access to different databases (to streamline the 'customer experience' by letting reps focus on specifics).

    As for the hold time - I have a LCD display that allows me to see how long someone has been on hold. For the past month now our hold time hasn't been over 10 minutes in customer service (if you call during peak hours *8am-5pm PST respectively). If you call after of before peak hours our hold time is next to nothing (if we even have a hold time at that) Our Tech support line hasn't had a hold time for at least 3 months now.

    As for account verification - we accept the last 4 digits of your credit card, calling the account holder back at the phone number listed on the account, a secret word (which the user sets up at time of initial signup), or the last 2 characters of the password (after which the user would be required to setup a secret word).

    I can't speak for AOL on these matters (for obvious reasons)

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982